President Viktor Yanukovych's party claimed victory Sunday in a parliamentary vote in Ukraine tainted by the jailing of the country's top opposition leader.

Despite a strong showing of pro-Western opposition parties in the proportional portion of the vote, Yanukovych's Party of Regions was likely to retain its parliamentary majority as its candidates were expected to take the lead in individual races across the country.

With former Premier Yulia Tymoshenko in jail and widespread fears of election fraud, the West is paying close attention to the vote in the strategic ex-Soviet state, which lies between Russia and the European Union and serves as a key conduit for Russian energy supplies to many EU countries. An election deemed undemocratic by international observers could freeze Kyiv's ties with the West and push Ukraine toward Moscow.


The government of Viktor Yanukovych appears to have weathered the storm of criticism it has faced since the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Reuter file photo

An exit poll conducted by three leading polling agencies showed the Party of Regions ahead with about 28.1 per cent of the vote. Tymoshenko's Fatherland party is poised to get about 25 per cent of the proportional vote, while the Udar (Punch) led by world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko is set to get around 15 per cent, according to the survey.

The anti-government nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party and the Communists, Yanukovych's traditional allies, both look set to get about 12 per cent. And even though the three opposition parties have more proportional votes than the regions and the Communists combined, Yanukovych candidates are likely to win enough individual races to form a majority in parliament.

Opposition parties alleged widespread violations on election day, including vote-buying and multiple voting and an attack on a candidate who tried to document election violations. The Committee of Ukrainian Voters, an independent local election monitor, confirmed those problems, but said it remains to be seen whether the violations would significantly affect the overall results and how fair the vote-tallying will be. Independent monitors will give their assessment Monday.

With Yanukovych under fire over the jailing of his top rival, Tymoshenko, rampant corruption and slow reforms, the opposition made a strong showing.

"This clearly shows that the people of Ukraine support the opposition, not for the government," Tymoshenko ally Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.

Opposition forces hope to garner enough parliament seats to weaken Yanukovych's power and undo the damage they say he has done: the jailing of Tymoshenko and her top allies, the concentration of power in the hands of the president, the snubbing of the Ukrainian language in favour of Russian, waning media freedoms, a deteriorating business climate and growing corruption.

The strong showing by the far-right Svoboda party, which campaigns for the defence of the Ukrainian language and culture but is also infamous for xenophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric, emerged as a surprise and showed the widespread disappointment and anger with the ruling party.